(One year ago…)
A dear friend was just turning sixty years and wanted us to come for a visit and stay in a really nice place near them that was owned by some friends, and celebrate with them. The area was very near the international border and a common pass-through for those of us ‘perpetual tourists’ that had to renew our tourist visa stamps every ninety days. We had finally reached the point of not having to get our visa renewed as we had applied for residency and had all the documents we needed for a road trip. It was a couple of rainy days but we enjoyed some new turf and new friends, we even went and looked at some housing possibilities in the area! Speculating – do we want to live around here? Food for thought.
We left the cabin we had stayed in early in the morning after eating a hearty breakfast (good thing for that!) so that we could reach the playa on our way home and have time for a peaceful swim before returning to the farm. It was a beautiful sunny day and there was very little traffic on the road with clear sailing until we passed the policia checkpoint. Having passed through this check on numerous occasions there was never a problem, but this day was different. We had a really bad feeling about this…
Since we believed that we understood the legal requirements for what specific documents needed to be in possession while traveling in Costa Rica, we each had a copy of our residency document (which has our application number) and a copy of our passports – we understood this to be sufficient. I actually did have my passport, however unfortunately (as it turned out) Mate (my husband) did not have his. We did not believe it to be a required item as our need to renew our visitor’s visa was eliminated with the residency document, but apparently the policia at the local check on the mountain road heading for home thought differently…they stopped us along the way and asked to see our passports. Mate showed them his documents but they wanted the passport and would not accept the documents as being enough, although they took them into their possession. I had my passport and showed them my documents as well, but this officer was determined to have a problem with Mate. The policia jefe joined in with the inspection and asked us to pull up to the check station, get out and come in – por favor. The residency document and passport copy was not sufficient for these guys, and they kept repeating to us, ‘grande problema, tsk tsk tsk, muy grande problema’, and they indicated that now it would be necessary for us to take a trip to the migration office on the border to clear up the situation. Just exactly what the ‘situation’ was that needed clearing up was not clear. Because I had my passport, the issue that was being made was directly with Mate, and he would have to go to migration (honestly, if I hadn’t had my passport, then what?). The policia asked me if I could drive, I said yes. They asked if I have a license – I said no. We had the truck and our belongings and our dog along with us. They told me to tell Mate that I love him and that I was free to go, ho ho. Not.
With our arses parked in the policia station all morning and just short of begging them to let us go we were finally able to get in touch with our attorney. He repeated that we were following the law and spoke with the jefe to help us understand exactly why we were being detained, and what the trip to migration was all about. The policia said that the law requires every person to have a passport in possession, and that the papers that we had were not sufficient and therefore a trip to migration would be absolutely required to prove that Mate is Mate, even though he tried – without success – to show the jefe his driver’s license for additional verification. We insisted that the jefe speak with our attorney and the policia jefe was clearly NOT happy and totally buggin’ about speaking with our attorney, who incidentally continued to work on other contacts on our behalf as we sat for several hours in the station waiting for a patrol car (all they had was a motorcycle) to take Mate and the other ‘prisoner’ to the border for processing. The jefe was irritated and said that our attorney did not know anything, that the policia and the abogados (attorneys) were in two different leagues and the attorneys did not know the law and our attorney needed to be seriously reprimanded for his ignorance. In fact, a quote: he said that the attorney needed to be hung by his ears and all of his hair pulled out. He also said that our attorney was trying to ‘intimidate him’ and the jefe was bound and determined to follow through on making sure that ‘his gringo’ was taken to the border, come hell or high water ‘cause he had hisself (sic) a gringo ‘prisoner’, and he said – verbatim – he was not going to let this gringo go. This jefe went beyond the call of duty to provoke Mate with his nasty attitude and insinuations and blatant disregard for the accurate and proper documents, goading Mate into making a really dumb move. I.e jefe asked to look inside Mate’s wallet (is there a good bribe waiting in there?) – perhaps the gringo might lose his temper or something of that nature then I will be justified in holding him? Nope, it didn’t work, we had patience on our side this day (and a comical point of view).
There was another man, the other ‘prisoner’ in the station waiting for transport to the border migration as well, a Nicaraguan that apparently missed an appointment that was required for his visa, unbeknownst to him. He has been living in this country for fourteen years and has been in the process of getting residency for the past two years, but he was being escorted to the border along with Mate for not having the proper paperwork. This man’s boss (aka ‘Bossman’) showed up to assist him, and fortunately for us he spoke very good English. This really good man was able to help us understand what the intentions of the policia were (they spoke really fast Spanish and were NOT claro), and why were they so very concerned about us, and just exactly what was it that these guys believed they needed to do, verdad (really)? The policia justification response was that there are a lot of Columbians crossing the border these days and they have to be very careful and thorough, required to check everyone. The fact that we are Americanos and Mate speaks very little espanol seemed to be moot and beside the point. The policia said that it is ‘protocol’ to stop and ask for papers, even if they know the person(s), they must do it. I noticed that the entire time that we sat there waiting for the patrol car (six and a half hours) the policia did not stop one other car on the road the entire time, and the traffic was plentiful – most of the locals slowed down respectfully or were beeping as they passed through, the gringos drove through merely with a quick glance. Not one car was stopped in six hours while they tended to us. The Bossman is also a local man and travels that road several times a day, as his business is as a scrap metal hauler. He mentioned that the policia ask him for his papers every time he goes through, even though they know him, no matter how many times a day it might be. The policia said that it is ‘protocol’ to stop and ask for papers, even if they know the person(s), they must do it. Those are the rules. (Obviously these rules are ‘bendable’.)
There were three police officers present at this station: the jefe; a next in command who was a very nice policia that really wanted to help us and tried to talk the jefe into letting us go to the point that he jeopardized his own position (let’s say he was verbally reprimanded and subsequently quit trying to help); and then there was a third officer that stayed quiet and in the back room for most of the time. We sat out front and waited.
The first patrol car that they summoned apparently broke down on the way; they had to arrange for another one. The jefe spoke with migration about Mate for quite a while on the phone, emphatically stating that there was a ‘grande problema’. He insisted that Mate’s paperwork was outdated (the jefe said it was dated 2011, it is dated 2013-merely eight months earlier, I might add) and that he had personally given Mate several warnings prior to this time. Vaca caca – never happened, not even one time! The jefe also spent a lot of time on the computer…?
Through our interpreter – the Bossman – the policia plan of action was that the two men, Mate and the Nicaraguan, would be escorted to the border for processing. I would follow in our truck (license or no), as would the Bossman so that we could be there at the border to assist. The patrol truck with two of the biggest Tico policeman (most people think Mate is big, these guys were gorillas!) that we have ever seen showed up, they were in their glory with the jefe, they had ’em (sic) a gringo and they were taking him to the border; it was arranged, migration was expecting them and there was no way out of it. They were not nice. These policia spoke to us about the problem and the paperwork, which was merely a repeat of what happened with the jefe. Then they loaded up the ‘prisoners’, sin paperwork, documents, personal belongings. It had been mentioned that the ‘criminals’ would be handcuffed for transport, but fortunately they were not. Off we went, back the way we had come earlier that day. By now it was midafternoon and the skies were dark with rain threatening. Me and the dog followed in our 2.8 ‘Yota Hilux, a ‘tractor’ not a racecar.
We stopped in the first town at the policia station. Mate had no documents, where were they? The overgrown escorts said that the jefe gave them to Mate – no, the jefe kept the documents, Mate had absolutely nothing. Mate requested that they return to the initial check station for the documents. We all drove around town in a circle and stopped at the police station again. It was decided that there would be no returning for the documents, it was what it was – too bad. Then we started off down the mountain, the coppers were driving as fast as possible – wildly and recklessly – I was doing my best to keep up, then it started to rain. The rain was pounding and it was hard to see and the dog was in the back of the truck getting wet – the policia was driving recklessly down the very steep winding hill swerving and passing cars dangerously, lights on top of the truck swirling and blinking red, they had criminals inside. They almost drove off the side of the road a couple of times on blind curves – yeehaw! They was a racin’ for the border, there was no time to waste cuz this was bigtime. I was trying my best to keep up – I am a good driver but I am not crazy. They stopped in the next town at the next policia station, to switch one of the officers for two, and for a visit to the bano. (Every little town with a police station we had to stop and check in, what fun.)
Things were getting dramatic by now; the new big guy escorted Mate to the bano and made sure that he was keeping a real close eye on Mate while he was urinating so that Mate couldn’t ‘pull a fast one’ – like try to run or something far worse…my imagination is going wild. Mate had to laugh, turned to look at the guy and asked him, in English, ‘Are you trying to see my junk? What, you never seen a pinkie before?” The policia stepped back a few feet (ya think he understood the meaning?) until Mate was finished and then he grabbed Mate by the collarbone to escort him back out to the truck. In the back room all of the policia were sitting around with their guns and vests off – hanging on the wall and such, feet on the table, watching old westerns dubbed in Spanish, not paying any attention to any of this whatsoever. When Mate and the officer got to the truck, which no one else was at yet, the officer was in a hurry for Mate to get into the back seat, and because of a disability with Mate’s knee he was unable to get in fast enough, so while his right leg was still outside the truck the policia pushed hard and bumped on him with the truck door, and when Mate looked at him and said ‘hey man’ the policia put his hand on his gun. Whoa, this dude was gettin’ ornery! Everyone else gets loaded up and the escort sits in the front seat. The other ‘new’ escort was just a kid, and before he got into the truck he was working real hard at getting his gun fastened on his leg so that it looked like the other officers the way they had their guns, but he was a rather large fella and his efforts were not working…he kept adjusting it and moving the leg strap and it kept pulling his pants down his leg – he was obviously frustrated and got in the truck next to the Nicaraguan man. Keystone Cops, for sure – undertrained. It might even be a good guess to say that the kid might not be too sure about even using a gun…moving right along, Mate asked the officer in front if he would please move his seat forward a little because he was being squeezed into the back seat and his bad knee was seriously stressed, especially after getting it crunched with the car door, so the man obliged by shoving his seat ALL THE WAY back and reclining his seat all the way back, also. Here we go again, we all pull out for the next phase of racecar madness down the mountain, and fortunately the rain had slowed to a drizzle so we could actually see where we were driving, but the policia truck had to stop down the road a few kilometers because the bell kept ringing in the truck saying that the (Mate’s) door was ‘open’. The officer in shotgun position got out to open and close the door a few times, to no avail – the bell kept dinging. You could say that by now everything was a little ‘ding-y’, the windows wouldn’t go up or down and Mate opened his door and shut it again (while on the move) – obvious malfunction for a police car, but whatever, right? The driver rolled his eyes.
After another insane race down the hill (no seatbelts were used in the police truck, btw), Mate’s imagination was going wild, he was having flashbacks and seeing Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant and all of the officers that busted him for throwing garbage over the hill on top of all the other garbage that was already there…and he couldn’t help but to giggle and laugh, and the policia were getting upset and thinking that he was laughing at them (well, he was – a little bit) as he was thinking about all of the dumb things that they were doing…and what he could be doing…but that wasn’t really such a good idea because he had nothing and they had guns and sh*#, he had no machete – nothin’!! And so he just kept giggling until they got to the next stop which was the main office for the southern zone, complete with guard stop outside and hazard wire all around – me and Bossman were left outside the fence on the street. This was where Mate was to have his fingerprints taken (for ‘what’ we do not know), so he was roughly manhandled into where the policewoman was to do his prints, there were hundreds of policia in this place and Mate and his ‘partner in crime’ (the Nicaraguan) were having some really bad feelings about this, like possibly they might be staying there awhile, if not worse…? However, the lady officer (who was nice, btw) asked for Mate’s passport, he replied he had no passport. She asked for his papers, he replied that he didn’t have those, either; the arresting jefe at the first stop had them. She was shocked, saying that this was totally against the ‘rules’, and what is your name please? So Mate wrote down his name and she pulled up his file on the computer, everything was there – complete and in order – and she said that there was no need for him to be there or for him to get printed – again. So the policia and prisoners all piled into the truck once again and headed for the last stop, the border migration office – the big one. Mate could not stop giggling about the absurdity of the whole deal, not to mention what neophytes these guys were, claiming to be so tough and important and making one dumb move after another. In fact, when Mate and his Nicaraguan partner in crime and the driver were in the truck alone for a moment, Mate tapped the driver on the shoulder and then handed him the baton (billy club) that had been left in the pocket of the back seat in front of him. His accomplice winced, hoping that something totally not cool was not coming next, but when Mate handed the driver the club the driver could only put his head down and shake it (read: OMG, really? Did this just happen? LOL). ‘Cause really, they were transporting dangerous criminals, right? Imbeciles, verdad.
The driver once again was driving like a bat out of hades with lights flashing and Mate has lost sight of me (as I am trying to keep up, hopelessly) and kept asking if the driver would please slow down – he didn’t. Finally Mate yells ‘ALTO’. The driver pulls over to the side of the road and all three officers turned and looked at Mate with the most shocked expressions – like wtf, so Mate says in his best spanish, ‘Mi espousa no muy rapido, por favor – look, and when we see her you can go,’ as he points to his two eyes while explaining his request. They waited, and when I was within view they continued.
At the border the policia truck pulled into migration and me and Bossman parked across the road. Bossman had his girlfriend with him, and the two of us waited there while Bossman (I wish I had this man’s name, at least to thank him) went into migration to check on the status of things. Fortunately I did have more copies of passports, and Bossman took Mate’s passport copy in with him to give the migration officers. The escort officer grabbed Mate by the collarbone and drove him into the migration office, told him to ‘sit down there’ and turned him over to another woman officer, who spoke very good english and was very cooperative and kind. The story was told, once again, about the lack of passport and the documentos retained by the arresting policia jefe (what?? Tsk tsk, this is highly irregular) and so she pulled up his information on the computer, printed out his documents, put her official stamp on the paperwork, and told Mate that he was completely within the law, had not done anything wrong and now he was free to go. This of course took almost two hours.
It was dark by now and we had a very long drive to get home. The border town is a mimic of Tijuana, Baja California – wow, that was a déjà vu for sure, and it most certainly was NOT where we wanted to hang around – especially after dark. Our friend the Bossman with girlfriend had disappeared into the masses to take advantage of the zone, and we headed for home. We had been detained from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., for nothing. Harrassed, tormented, treated in all kinds of ugly and abusive ways, we all survived a crazy drive down the mountain, not much short of miraculously, to tell this story.
And just for worthy mention, my opinion regarding the use of the word ‘gringo’ in Latin America – it’s one thing to be referred to as a ‘gringo’ amongst friends, but for a police officer to be using the word while doing his ‘job’, well it seems overkill and out of place. Jus’ my opinion.
And so what can you do with these undertrained egotistical guys? They need to have their chips replaced, or get re-trained or retired – something. Who paid for this extravagant display of taking something very personal, lying when the truth isn’t working and playing it out to the absolute max? How about training to focus on the real problems, especially when those things are walking around our small towns daily and actually ARE threatening? Time for changes, the time is now, the need is without a doubt and the power of the people desiring the change is what is in order here. This is only just one more story out there of the same ole thing. We are so ready to see those much needed changes in our world! More patience, and keep the comico in the forefront. Our daughter says to me, ‘Ok, but you are living in a third world country, yeah?’ Hmmm…not sure that really makes much difference, not anymore, this virus has spread to all places everywhere…look around.
Truly, it is an ‘out-of-control’ situation that we (all over the world) are dealing with, not just in the ‘third world countries’. There is a movement going on with the people to reclaim their rights, poco a poco, but what a pile of paperwork and a lot of confrontation that will be (obviously is happening now)! Faith and with time, perhaps, or something really big happening on a very global scale. In the meantime, we are flying low under the radar, maintaining peace in our hearts…and keeping our powder dry.
(One year ago…)